President Rivlin Demands Answers From Netanyahu Over New Hasbara Chief's Comments

Newly appointed public diplomacy head Ran Baratz is in hot water over alleged 'anti-Rivlin' comments he made online.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

President Reuven Rivlin’s bureau sent a request Sunday to the Prime Minister’s Office asking for explanations regarding remarks directed against Rivlin by Dr. Ran Baratz, the newly appointed head of Israel's public diplomacy (hasbara) department in the PMO.

“We view this gravely” wrote the president’s office, “and demand an explanation of whether the words written by Baratz were known to the prime minister when he made his decision to appoint Baratz to this job.”

Only a week ago, while negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu over Baratz's appointment as head of Public Diplomacy and Media at the Prime Minister's Office were at an advanced stage, Baratz posted a sharp attack on Rivlin on his Facebook page.

Ran Baratz - head of Public Diplomacy and Media at the Prime Minister's Office, founder of Mida website. June 18, 2013. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Baratz responded to photos showing Rivlin sitting in economy class on his flight home from a state visit to the Czech Republic. “I think it says a lot when the President travels in economy class, walking around shaking everyone’s hands,” says the post.

“It mainly shows him to be such a marginal figure that there is no concern for his safety. I think he could be sent in a para-glider to the Syrian Golan [Heights] controlled by ISIS. They’ll return him the next day with a request for negotiating their return to Iraq, if only we take him back. “Your president walks around our camp shaking everyone’s hands, trying to speak in Arabic which he doesn’t know, telling us to unite instead of being separate tribes. In short, the gang is totally demoralized, despairing of life, even talking of setting up a human rights group that will examine the cruel usage of flat jokes as part of psychological warfare. The New [Israel] Fund is already showing interest,” he quipped.

The Facebook posting by Baratz was first reported by Amit Segal on TV Channel 2 News. One person responding to the post attached a photo of right-wing activist Daniella Weiss, saying in a TV interview that President Rivlin “is not important enough for someone to assassinate”. Baratz responded to this, saying “I said this way before she did, but it’s good when practical people confirm the observations of theoreticians.” Baratz told Channel 2 that he had written his statements as a “satire.”

The President’s office responded harshly to Baratz’s statements. “This is especially serious since he is a senior official in the state’s service, someone designated to serve in a representative capacity, reflecting Israel’s polices in Israel and abroad.”

Baratz's appointment as media adviser and head of Public Diplomacy and Media at the Prime Minister's Office was announced Wednesday afternoon. Baratz, 42, resides in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim and holds a PhD in philosophy from Hebrew University. Baratz founded the right wing website Mida which publishes articles on political, diplomatic and economic issues. However, Baratz has no experience in the fields of journalism, public relations or public diplomacy.

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